What’s so Great About Democracy?

Democracy and the rights and freedoms it entails are things we often take for granted. International Democracy Day is the ideal time to explore why and how you should fight for democracy.

A Day of Review

An initiative of the United Nations, the International Day of Democracy ‘provides an opportunity to review the state of democracy in the world’.

It was first commemorated in 2008 after the UN General Council decided on the date the previous year, making this the 10th anniversary.

Democracy and human rights are closely linked. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

 The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

This year the theme is oversight, meaning ‘parliament’s role in holding governments to account’. Checks and balances are a key part of any democratic government.

What Does Democracy Bring to the Table?

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) explains that democracy makes a difference in our lives by ensuring certain freedoms, such as practising religious beliefs, facilitating innovation in the Arts, Sciences and philosophical thought.

In a democracy people should be treated equally and have equal opportunity. Disputes and disagreements should be settled through debate, persuasion and compromise.

The IPU also lists what can go wrong: male dominance, corruption, public apathy, weak or no control over the executive branch of government, majority dominance over minorities and media one-sidedness.

However, there is no single definition of democracy. Culture, economics, politics and social conditions in each country contribute to the form of democratic government best suited to its needs.

How to Strengthen Democracy

In our busy lives we often forget that each of us has a role to play in creating and maintaining democratic freedoms.

We might debate with our friends and colleagues about whatever is current in our respective countries, usually expressing dissatisfaction or incredulity.

But what can we actually do to, firstly, understand what democracy means in our own country’s context and, secondly, assist in the process of maintaining and improving our lives under our democratic system?

The most obvious way is to get out and vote during elections. Although it did not last, the first recorded parliament was 750 years ago in Britain. Up to 1918 women in the UK could not vote.

Gaining the right to vote for many people around the world was a hard-fought battle. Quite literally, blood was spilled.

Inform yourself on the meaning of democracy in the context of your country, Asia and the world.

Though somewhat out of date, Alina Rocha Menocal’s infographic on Ten Things to Know About Democracy is an easy visual starting point for widening your perspective.

Use and search #InternationalDayofDemocracy and #StrongerDemocracies to both spread the word and read what others have to say.

Post a banner, for example, Marian Wright Edelman’s succinct aphorism ‘Democracy is not a spectator sport.’

Inform yourself about different types of governments other than democracies. For example, do you know what an oligarchy is?

You may of course ask, ‘What is the point in learning about forms of government in other countries?’

The reply is: Because you will be in a better position to recognise the difference between informed opinion backed by facts and uninformed rants.

As the Washington Post’s slogan goes ‘Democracy dies in darkness’, it us up to all of us to help shine our lights brightly so that it may never die.

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